Soul Fjord Review (Ouya)
If ever there was a genre mash-up that needed to happen, it's Norse mythology and blaxploitation. With Soul Fjord, that's just what Airtight Games has given us. An Ouya exclusive, Soul Fjord is a roguelike that is heavy on funk, soul and action. When it's working, Soul Fjord is a fun free-to-play title, but those moments are bogged down inconsistent controls and awkward micro-transactions.
Magnus Jones wanted nothing more than to keep the party going in the afterlife. Too bad for him, his entry to Valhalla, the hottest club for dead Norse warriors, was denied. Now Jones won't get to enjoy the end of the world party that is Ragnarok. That is, unless he can fight his way up the World Tree, and kick the doors of Valhalla down with all the power and persistence of a funk-fueled Viking. As narratives go, it's simple, but it definitely gets the point across. Though the story and characterization don't delve beyond the surface level, the world Airtight has built more than makes up for it. Strong character design and inspired stages make the bizarre fusion work. Seeing Magnus take on Disco Grannies and literal Lounge Lizards inside a Yggdrasil filled with bumping speakers, cloth-top Cadillacs and shag carpeting goes a long way in making you feel like a part of this world.
Though many of the pieces will be the same, every time you play Soul Fjord, the world will be slightly different. Each of the nine stages are randomly generated every time you load up a new game after you die. You will die, and you will die quite a bit. Fortunately, along the way on your journey to the top, you'll find some impressive loot and gear to take with you. Magnus starts out with some fairly basic weaponry and armor, but can either buy some better equipment from vendors you come across or find it in special chests scattered about the world. While you can buy things from the vendors with gold you've earned from vanquishing enemies, the chests can only be opened with highly valuable gold records.
Every time you start a new game, you get ten gold records. The chests cost three records to open on the first few stages, then increase in cost every stage after that. While the goods you'll find inside are worth the investment, if a few randomly appear early on, you'll be out of records pretty quick. That's where the micro-transactions come into play. Records dropping from enemies is a very rare occurrence, but you can buy some from the in-game store to ensure you won't have to worry about running out. Now, you can fully enjoy Soul Fjord without buying any records, but you'll probably be missing out on some of the better and more inventive weapons and armors available. Additionally, everything you find in a chest will be bound to your character, meaning it will carry over to the next game you start after you die. This makes traversing earlier levels a snap so you can get back to the more challenging later levels with a bit of ease.
Items you've acquired from vendors can also be bound for five records a piece so you'll have them on your next playthrough, but this is where Soul Fjord starts to lose us. Jones has four different items he can possibly have bound to him at once. Since you only get ten records at a time (unless you pay for more), it's unlikely you'll be able to have multiple items bound to you at once. It could be passed off as strategizing on how to spend your valuable currency, but considering many of the best weapons and armors already require you to pay records to access them, the strategy basically boils down to "Do I want to open my wallet, or not?" This is especially true as you progress late into the game, and opening a chest costs more and more records. It's not unbearably invasive, but it does detract from the overall appeal.
The real disappointment in Soul Fjord is the combat. Combat is actually fairly simple. One button for light attacks. One button for heavy attacks. You can swing away all day dealing moderate damage to enemies. Where Airtight tries to set itself apart is in its rhythm-based mechanics. Wherever Magnus roams, a series of notes follows him around. If you attack in time with the beats, combos will appear. Hit the combo correctly, and you'll deal even more damage to enemies. Different combos spring from different weapons, and at first it's all well and good. There's a bit of symmetry with the actual score (which is fantastic), but inevitably, the beats surrounding Magnus will suffer some syncopation, and your ability to feel the rhythm will fall to the wayside. Combat suffers as a result. Additionally, the Ouya controller isn't exactly as responsive as its console counterparts, and that too contributes to some of the combat woes you'll encounter.
Soul Fjord's got style in spades, but when you get down to it, there's not much substance. The combat is decent, but is too inconsistent. The fact that it's free-to-play is great, but the micro-transactions aren't as optional as they first appear. It's a shame this anticipated Ouya exclusive misses the mark, as the Android console could really use something to attract players. While Soul Fjord is worth checking out (it is free after all), there's little reason to revisit this world after a few games.
This review is based on a copy of Soul Fjord provided by the developer. We also received Ouya credit to use for in-game purchases.